The recent rapid evolution of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) situation around the world, and especially its surprisingly sudden arrival in the midst of Europe, provides us a timely opportunity to reflect on one of the most important of our psychological capacities: resilience. Psychologists define resilience as the ability to adapt in the face of stress, trauma, and other adversity. Fear and uncertainty in the face of an unknown viral threat certainly qualifies as a source of stress and perhaps even trauma. So how does this help us? And how does it relate to resilience?
Resilience is not avoidance
Adversity is a fact of life. We should be working to develop resilience in ourselves and our children and students for when adversity arises so that we can react, adapt, and move forward in healthy ways. People who have developed their resilience are prepared, not charmed. They are no more or less likely to encounter adversity, but they are far more likely to emerge from it confident and ready for the next challenge that will inevitably emerge.
Resilience can be learned
Luckily, research in psychology tells us that resilience can be developed. It is not something we are either born with or without; however, it is something we must be intentional about building. Too often, when we shield ourselves (or our children) from stressful or traumatic situations, we also miss the chance to develop the resilience that will be necessary to emerge from even bigger challenges. By focusing on connections, wellness, healthy thoughts, and striving for purpose, we can build the psychological resources that will buoy us when seas get rough.
Just as people can use adversity to build resilience, so can organizations. The current situation has forced many schools to change the way they engage in education with their communities. Schools that have moved entirely online are discovering innovative ways to engage learners and staff using technologies old and new. From the adverse situation, new possibilities are arising. We hope to stay open as long as possible, but we are still learning from these other schools and developing our own solutions against the unwelcome possibility of a closure.
Should we have to close down, we are ready to continue the learning for students, and also for ourselves as a school. Furthermore, it is an opportunity to position us all to be future-ready for learning. Schools, institutions of higher learning, and companies are all realising that learning is never-ending. We are all constantly un-learning and re-learning in order to stay relevant and on top of our skills. Finding new ways to engage in learning beyond the traditional classroom or book learning is essential as the nature of learning across our lifespan changes, and also as the geographic distribution of learners grows. Being prepared for a situation like that faced by many schools today helps us build our organizational resilience for this rapidly developing future as well.